There was a little gathering Sunday afternoon that meant a lot to me. It was a gathering of cousins on my mother’s side and a few members of the next generation as well. It was not a big, all-day family reunion; just a few hours of reminiscences over ice cream and other goodies including Grandma Kauffman’s date pudding.
It was significant because it never happens, even though many of us live within an hour of each other. Perhaps the last big gathering was 1998, and that was one of those all-afternoon affairs. There have been funerals in the meantime, of course.
It was significant because of the presence of the last surviving member of my mother’s family, Aunt Irene.
And it was significant because I believe this gathering will make it easier and more compelling to get together more often in this way, without a lot of fuss but with considerable meaning and affection.
It would not have happened without Facebook and the gifted family archivist, Cousin Wanda. A few months ago Wanda was at my house with her sister Glenda, who regularly comes from Florida to visit their mother, Irene, and Cousin Ed and his wife, who are back in the home area (northern Indiana) after a long absence. Wanda and Ed both brought old photos. As we looked at them, Ed and Wanda decided to set up a family group on Facebook where these could be posted.
Over the next weeks, many cousins and second cousins signed onto the group as Wanda and Ed, but mostly Wanda, posted a flurry of old photos. The pictures and comments stirred memories. Others added photos, old and current. There are more than 160 photos on the site so far. We not only remembered the past but began to catch up with each other’s more recent history and current lives.
A number of us were already Facebook friends, but this family FB group was an interesting complement to that. In a way, our regular Facebook posts can tell us way more about each other than we would ordinarily learn in face-to-face gatherings. Our posts can reveal and stir up profound differences. Anybody who reads my blog, for instance, probably learns far more than they care to about my views. But the family-group posts emphasize what we have in common, our shared roots, memories, affection. Combining these different kinds of knowledge about each other is the challenge we implicitly agreed to face by getting together.
Actually, it was explicit in one case. Cousin Kathy and I agreed before the gathering not to talk about politics and religion! Instead we talked about sledding on Grandpa’s hill, heard excerpts from his diary, and coaxed my older brother into giving a firsthand description of the day of the early family tragedy that predated many of us, Uncle Harley’s 1946 plane crash.
The short gathering was too short. I didn’t have time to talk to everybody in a relaxed way. I hope we do it again soon. If you are reading this, Kauffman cousins, I love you!